University of Buffalo communications prof Lindsay Hahn doesn’t think we need to avoid media before bedtime in order to get better sleep. Her recent research showed that the question was more complex than that:
“We found that media use just prior to the onset of sleep is associated with an earlier bedtime and more total sleep time, as long as the duration of use is relatively short and you’re not multitasking, like texting or simultaneously scrolling social media,” says Lindsay Hahn, PhD, an assistant professor of communication in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences. “Watching a streaming service or listening to a podcast before bed can serve as a passive, calming activity that improves aspects of your sleep.”Bert Gambini, “It beats counting sheep. Media use before bed can be beneficial” at University pof Buffal News Center (February 9, 2022) The paper requires a subscription.
But, and we won’t be surprised to hear this, her study looked only at “legacy media” — television, radio, video games and books, for example — and even there we are urged to “stay within certain boundaries”:
“We intentionally looked only at what you might call ‘entertainment media,’” says Hahn, a co-author on the paper and an expert in media psychology and media effects. “Despite social media getting a lot of attention both in research circles and in popular culture, American time-use surveys show that people still spend a lot of time with television, music and books.Bert Gambini, “It beats counting sheep. Media use before bed can be beneficial” at University pof Buffal News Center (February 9, 2022) The paper requires a subscription.
It’s no surprise that television, music, books, and podcasts would have an enormous advantage over social media for relaxation. For one thing, they are not interactive and are often not even immediate. We can choose to listen to a favorite folk singer, Brahms, or easy rock with no fear of finding ourselves caught in a flame war over conflicting reports from the Ukraine.
Tweeting more frequently on weekday late nights was associated with lower sleep quality (β = -0.937, SE = 0.352); tweeting more frequently on weekday evenings was associated with better quality sleep (β = 0.189, SE = 0.097). Tweets during the weekday that were labeled related to the emotion of fear were associated with lower sleep quality (β = -0.302, SE = 0.131).Garett R, Liu S, Young SD. The Relationship Between Social Media Use and Sleep Quality among Undergraduate Students. Inf Commun Soc. 2018;21(2):163-173. doi: 10.1080/1369118X.2016.1266374. Epub 2016 Dec 20. PMID: 29628784; PMCID: PMC5881928.
If late night tweeting on weekdays was related to ongoing problems, it would likely reduce sleep quality. Earlier tweeting would not have the same effect because the student was not trying to fall asleep.
Rob Newsom points out at The Sleep Foundation site that social media can have physically, not just psychologically, distracting effects:
Checking social media, sending emails, or looking at the news before bed can keep us awake, as nighttime use of electronics can affect sleep through the stimulating-effects of light from digital screens.
While all light can interfere with our circadian rhythms, the 24-hour internal rhythms that control processes like the sleep-wake cycle, the blue light emitted from electronic screens has the greatest impact on sleep. Blue light stimulates parts of the brain that makes us feel alert, leaving us energized at bedtime when we should be winding down.
The impacts of blue light exposure may be worse for those who wake up to check their phone after falling asleep. Approximately 21% of adults say that they wake up to check their phone during the night, leaving them at an even higher risk of losing sleep and developing a sleep disorder like insomnia.Rob Newsom, “Sleep and Social Media” at The Sleep Foundation (November 13, 2020)
Newsom also reports that, in one study 70% of students and hospital employees reported social media use after they got into bed and almost 15% spent an hour or more on it each night. At that point, they might want to ask themselves, is better sleep even the goal?
He suggests taking practical steps like turning off phone notifications and alerts, charging the phone in a different room, and following a strict timeout rule.
Here’s a thought: If we can’t remember the social media bulletins that kept us awake last Thursday, chances are they weren’t immediately important enough that we should have allowed them to keep us awake. 😉
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